LITTLE ROCK — With the general election about a year away, the state chairmen of the two major parties on Wednesday offered differing opinions of what they believe Arkansas voters want from political candidates.
Speaking as guests of the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Vince Insalaco said voters want candidates who believe in working across party lines, while state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said his party is realigning the state to the right after it drifted too far to the left.
“Arkansas Democrats want to work for Arkansans, not narrow ideological interests,” Insalaco said. “We want to work together. We want to reach across the aisle. We want candidates who know what it’s like to do that — candidates and office holders like Gov. (Mike) Beebe, who has taught us well what reaching across the aisle means and how you can get work done.”
Webb told the club, “There’s a red team and a blue team, and the blue team enables the policies of the team, whether it’s at the courthouse or in the Congress or in the presidency. They are enablers. Doesn’t matter the name, they are all enablers. … There is no purple team in Arkansas.”
Democrats are hoping next year’s election will reverse some of the gains made in recent years by Republicans, who now hold all but one seat in the state’s congressional delegation and majorities in the state House and Senate. Republicans are hoping to strengthen their majorities and win the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Mark Pryor, who is facing a challenge from U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
Insalaco said Arkansas Democrats “are more fired up and excited about our candidates than we have been in a long time. We have a really good, strong ticket coming together, and we’re not finished yet.”
As examples, he named former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, a candidate in the 2nd District congressional race; former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt, a candidate in the 4th District congressional race; and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, a candidate for governor.
Republican candidates in those races — all of which will be without incumbents — include banker French Hill, retired Army Col. Conrad Reynolds and state Rep. Ann Clemmer in the 2nd District; state House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman and businessman Tommy Moll in the 4th District; and former U.S. Rep. and Undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson in the governor’s race.
Insalaco did not mention Witt’s Democratic primary opponent, Hot Springs teacher Janis Percefull. He told reporters later that the party is not endorsing Witt over Percefull.
Insalaco also praised Pryor, calling him “a middle-of-the-road guy who has supported the president when he thought the president was right and supported other things when he thought he was right.”
Webb told Insalaco, “You have looked at a different voting record for Sen. Pryor than I have. I’ve seen that he has supported President Obama and his policies 95 percent of the time, when the people of Arkansas have been overwhelmingly opposed to those policies.”
Insalaco said Cotton was part of a group of Republicans who caused last month’s government shutdown and said Cotton has voted to revamp Social Security and Medicare and voted against the initial version of the farm bill, the Violence Against Women Act and a bill to lower the cost of student loans.
“When you vote against Social Security, Medicare, farmers, women and students, that’s just about everybody,” Insalaco said.
Discussing the federal Affordable Care Act and the “private option,” Arkansas’ plan to use federal Medicaid money to provide private insurance to low-income workers, Insalaco said he supports both and that they are “the right thing to do.”
Webb did not take a position on the private option but said he opposes the Affordable Care Act.
“A lot of times, we can’t afford what we need to do for others,” he said.
Insalaco was named chairman of the state Democratic Party in September. Webb won a third term as chairman of the state Republican Party last December.